Ranked Play Changes
League of Legends’ eleventh competitive season commenced on January 8, 2021. Developers Riot Games used the opportunity provided by the launch of a new season to modify the ranking system in hopes of making it easier for players to advance. The basic outline remains the same: players collect League Points (LP) from winning ranked games to progress through divisions that are divided between nine tiers. However, there have been many changes to the system’s details, from LP gain algorithm tweaks to the ease of movement between divisions. Also, new measures have been introduced to punish players for abandoning competitive matches.
The beginning of this season looked a little different. As usual, all players had to play ten placement matches to receive their starting rank. However, the matchmaking for those starting games worked differently for new arrivals to the mode. Rather than assigning them to the matchmaking equivalent of the lowest ranks by default, the game gauged their performance in normal matches in order to match them up with old or new players of similar skill from the start.
In a similar vein, the seasonal rank reset for returning participants has been softened. Following the completion of provisional matches, their starting positions on the ranking ladder were noticeably closer to where they left off. It would be interesting to see if both of those changes will carry over to future years, making the beginning of the competitive race a little smoother and ensuring fairer match-ups from the start.
Players no longer need to play best-of-five promotion matches just to advance from one division to another within a tier. Instead, they simply cross over to the next division once they have enough LP. Any extra points are kept within the new division, keeping players from having to start over at zero. Demotion protection between divisions is also gone, though, so it is much easier to fall again. Promotions, demotions, and LP all work as before when moving between tiers, but this measure still cuts down on a lot of progress gating.
LP change algorithms remain a black box, but according to the developers, LP gain from ranked wins has been slightly decreased, as has LP loss from defeats. The intent is to reduce the rank inflation caused by the other adjustments and make the system less prone to sudden swings. Additionally, matchmaking has been changed to take player ranks into account alongside MMR, making ranking progression more meaningful while decreasing LP disparity and queue wait times.
The last few tiers have received especially close attention in the launch update, with multiple changes aimed at encouraging the players to race to the top right away:
- There are no longer any delays at the start of a season before Master and higher tiers become available to players (although they still can’t get higher than Platinum during the initial placement);
- Master and higher tiers may only be accessed through the solo queue, forcing the competitors to rely more on individual skills at that level of play;
- In addition to satisfying the top two hundred per server requirement, players must collect 200+ LP at Master to access Grandmaster and 500+ LP at Grandmaster to get to Challenger;
- Rank decay for Diamond has been revised. Players start with 28 banked days upon reaching Diamond. Seven days may be acquired with each won game, though 28 remains the cap. One banked day is expended every day without in-game activity. Once they run out, the player loses 50 LP on every day of inactivity.
Commit to the Game
The developers have added an LP mitigation mechanism to account for the impact of AFK teammates. While players who become inactive during a ranked match lose more LP in defeat, their allies lose less. The size of this effect is determined by the team’s overall performance. Also, there is a fixed number of ranked games every week that may be affected by the mechanism. Overall, the danger posed to one’s ranked progression by unreliable partners should be decreased – which is especially valuable after the removal of the duo queue option for higher ranks.
Following a later patch, players who receive LP change penalties for going AFK or abandoning a competitive match in progress are explicitly marked. The penalty has been tightened up as well, preventing promotions if the post-penalty LP gain is not enough to get one to the next rank. These changes should help encourage people to either take competitive matches more seriously or stick to solo normal games.
For many people, ranked play is the heart of League of Legends. It is meant to be the ultimate test of player skill. In order to live up to that potential, it must have a ranking system that properly recognizes good performance and ensures that the participants are evenly matched. However, there is always the risk of such a system becoming too frustrating to make any progress in it. Despite remaining flaws, this latest round of changes represents another step towards finding the right balance between accessibility and fairness. With great rewards like the Eternals capsule on the line, it is vital for the developers to continue improving this aspect of the game.